Profile: The Labour candidate

Party insiders were quietly ecstatic when they settled on their nominee for tonight’s by-election.

The general assessment was that Lindsay Roy, 59, is not tainted by association with high politics, but remains a solid Labour man, having joined the party in 1975. He’s successful, with close ties to the community, and – for a little bit of human interest – headmaster of the school Gordon Brown used to go to.

That particular high school is Kirkcaldy, although before you start toying with too many romantic associations, he’s only been there six months or so. He’s now on leave while he campaings. Funnily enough, he was sent by the Scottish National party (SNP)-run council in Fife to turn the school around, after the SNP councillor on the education committee praised his appointment and expressed a barrel-load of confidence in his leadership skills.

He had good reason to. A report from school inspectors last year said: “The headteacher provided exceptionally strong and dynamic leadership.”

The man has a habit of doing well in his profession. Roy is also former president of the Headmasters’ Association of Scotland, and represents the country on the International Confederation of Principles, as well as moonlighting as a schools inspector.

Be that as it may, he had his work cut out for him. It has been one of those dark periods in Labour history, where a majority of 10,644 makes you the underdog. But with the SNP taking Glasgow East and undoing a majority of 3,000 more than that, it’s exactly where Labour have been.

Not only that, but the SNP were quietly – some would say rather despicably – building up their local campaign in the months preceding John MacDougall’s death. That was the death, from cancer, which triggered this by-election.

But Glenrothes is not Glasgow East. There are various socio-economic differences, but most importantly Labour is convinced it can make leeway on the host of unpopular policies Peter Grant, the SNP candidate, has to somehow justify. As a consequence of the party’s commitment to freezing council tax, the SNP have signed up to a cut in home care provision and adult apprenticeships, for instance.

Mr Roy is unlikely to receive much of the praise if Labour retain the seat anyway. Since Gordon Brown’s political revival started during the dawn of the banking crisis, rising party aspirations about the seat have concentrated more on the central leadership than they have Mr Roy. The prime minister has now visited twice – a high-risk strategy which promises to attach his name to any failure and put the brakes on his nascent resurrection as father of the nation if things go badly. His wife, Sarah, has all but set up camp in the area, with Labour trying to replicate her warming effect on the party conference on the doorsteps of Fife.

Mr Roy remains the best available politician for the by-election. His community qualifications are a major benefit, but his popularity rests largely with the winning combination of impeccable Labour record and non-political career. But with by-elections increasingly becoming referendums on national parties, he will only be able to soak up half the goodwill in the case of a win. On the other hand, he’ll only have to shoulder half the blame if things go pear-shaped.